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Warm and Supportive Parenting Can Discourage Offspring’s Civic Engagement in the Transition to Adulthood

Abstract

It is widely believed that warm and supportive parenting fosters all kinds of prosocial behaviors in the offspring, including civic engagement. However, accumulating international evidence suggests that the effects of family support on civic engagement may sometimes be negative. To address this apparent controversy, we identified several scenarios for the negative effects of supportive parenting on youth civic engagement and tested them using four waves of data from the Finnish Educational Transitions Studies. They followed 1549 students (55 % female) from late adolescence into young adulthood, included both maternal (n = 231) and offspring reports of parental support, and assessed civic engagement in young adulthood. Control variables included socioeconomic status, other sociodemographic indicators, church belonging, personality traits, and earlier civic engagement. Higher maternal warmth and support and a stronger identification with the parental family in adolescence predicted offspring’s lower political activism up to 10 years later. Perceived parental support in young adulthood predicted lower volunteering 2 years later. There were no significant effects on general organizational involvement (e.g., in student and hobby associations). None of the a priori scenarios that we identified from the literature appeared to explain the pattern of results satisfactorily. We put forth cultural and life stage explanations of our findings.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. More parenting data from mothers (n = 231) than from fathers (n = 138) were obtained. Adolescent reports on their parents’ parenting styles were collected only in a subsample of ninth-graders (n = 210) but not in upper secondary school students. As a result, only 140 cases had complete data on both maternal and adolescent reports on mothers’ parenting styles.

  2. Additional analyses showed that parenting variables had no significant effects on voting. This was unsurprising, because voting is a low-effort type of civic engagement that is rather normative (the vast majority of our participants voted at least sometimes). We do not report these results in the main part of the article.

  3. Many studies have established a positive link between warm and democratic parenting and family SES (Hoff et al. 2002), also in Finland (Aunola and Nurmi 2004). However, most of them referred to younger children. Maybe in higher-SES families, mothers are better able to adjust their parenting style to the child’s developmental stage and express less warmth and closeness to encourage adolescents’ independence (Chase-Lansdale et al. 1995).

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Acknowledgments

Maria K. Pavlova is a fellow of the international postdoctoral program “Pathways to Adulthood,” which is funded by the Jacobs Foundation. We thank Heta Tuominen-Soini for her kind assistance with the data preparation and the anonymous reviewers for constructive and insightful comments.

Authors’ contributions

M. K. P. planned the study, conducted statistical analyses, and wrote the manuscript. R. K. S. repeatedly provided substantive feedback during manuscript preparation and revision. M. R. was heavily involved in the data collection of the FinEdu, helped in data preparation, and assisted in revising the manuscript. K. S. A. is the PI of the FinEdu. She was involved in the data collection at all stages and assisted in planning the study and revising the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Funding

The FinEdu studies are funded by the Academy of Finland (Grants 134931, 139168, and 273872 to Katariina Salmela-Aro).

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Correspondence to Maria K. Pavlova.

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When the study began, the Finnish laws did not require institutional approval but did require informed consent, which was obtained as explained below.

Informed Consent

Consistent with the Finnish laws and with the expressed approval of school officials, student assent was required for participation as the participants were aged 15 and older when the study began. Parents were notified of the study and provided the option of refusing their children’s participation; none did so.

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Pavlova, M.K., Silbereisen, R.K., Ranta, M. et al. Warm and Supportive Parenting Can Discourage Offspring’s Civic Engagement in the Transition to Adulthood. J Youth Adolescence 45, 2197–2217 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-016-0511-5

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Keywords

  • Civic engagement
  • Parental warmth and support
  • Parenting styles
  • Positive youth development
  • Youth volunteering and political activism